How to Make a Gambeson

How to Make
a Gambeson
Also known as:
Aketon, Arming Coat, Bambikion,
Haqueton, Jack or Jupon
By Inga the Unfettered
Lost Vikings Household
MKA: Michelle Height
[email protected]
Special thanks to:
Olaf the Stout Rasmussen: for asking me to make my first gambeson and taking the time to explain what one
was and what it was for.
Countess Dierdriana of the Misty Isles MKA: Maureen Whitaker Clifton : for her booklet ‘Fantastic
Gambazons’ that got me started on my way.
The Lost Vikings : for loving my work so much and for putting it to such good use
Dexter of the Silver Talons : for all the brainstorming and for questioning everything
My mum : for all the skills that make it possible
@ 2001 Inga the Unfettered MKA: Michelle Height
All Rights Reserved
Design options
There are several factors to consider when choosing the design and style of the gambeson.
- What type of fighter will wear this gambeson? Lights must have long sleeves, heavies wear a broad
assortment of armor that must be factored in to the fit. I suggest doing a few sketches to help determine what
will best serve the wearer’s needs.
- What is the wearer’s persona? This will affect color choice, quilting design and embellishment. The pattern
I present here does not derive exclusively from any one given period and authenticity has been sacrificed for
functionality to some degree. This basic shape can easily be modified to include a collar, dags and other such
period modifications. Keep in mind that this garment is, above all, intended to protect the wearer - do not let
the appearance of the gambeson impede the functionality of the garment – just a word of caution.
- Is this for a new fighter or established fighter? A new fighter may wish to construct a quick version of the
gambeson to save time & cost. An established fighter generally has a clear idea of what works for them and
will likely want to go with the full finish gambeson for it’s durability.
Quick version – ideal for the new fighter – can only be made out of moving blanket
The primary difference is that the moving blanket is not encased in anything to increase it’s lifespan. Edges
of the moving blanket are encased in store bought bias tape or serged to seal in the padding.
Material Cost: $20 to $30
Construction time: 2 to 3 evenings
Lifespan: up to one year with weekly washings
High Finish – major investment of time & money – best for those that are committed to fighting.
Material Cost: up to $200
Construction time: 30 to 40 hours
Lifespan: seemingly indefinite if cared for properly (all those I’ve made are still in use)
4 to 6 years under regular levels of abuse is a conservative estimate (Note: edging and edging
where armor rubs will show wear first i.e.: area around neckline where gorget rubs)
– works best with external armor or for those brave souls that wear absolute bare minimum armor
– no sleeves and nominal coverage on sides (ribs) an issue to be considered
– this is such a simple design that I do not cover it specifically in the following construction instructions.
Simply cover batting/moving blanket according to construction instructions and edge with bias tape as
per edging instructions. Attach closures (ties, grommets & lacing etc..) under arms at waist.
Loose/Tunic style
- looser fit works well with either internal or external armor
- less fitting required
- excess fabric may cause bunching
- excellent for light fighting
- can be done with open or closed armholes & with or without side slits
- shown here with short sleeve and long sleeve
Fitted style
- designed for use with close fitting internal armor
- highly fitted
- no excess of fabric
- armholes are open and sides are slit to provide maximum range of motion
- shown here with short sleeve and long sleeve
Materials List
Padding Interior
- Moving blanket - MUST be of all natural materials – WARNING some companies sell blankets that have
synthetic shells
- Cotton or Polyester batting
- Cotton/ Polyester blend fabric is recommended - this gives you the breathability of cotton with the pill
resistance and colorfastness of polyester
- Heavy Suiting or Bull Denim are excellent choices for long term wear (Note: for those new to sewing, the
staff at the fabric stores can help you find these types of fabric)
- IMPORTANT!!!!! The weave of the fabric you select must be tight – think of how closely woven denim
is. An open weave fabric will snag, pill, tear and show wear much more readily
Bonding Material
- Stichwitchery can be used but it does add weight to the finished product and is quite costly
- Bargain Fabric outlets regularly carry a no-name version of Stichwitchery that is much lighter – it looks
like spider web – and is as good a fusing material at about half the cost of Stichwitchery
Thread – Poly/cotton blend
Sewing Machine Needles
- Batting - Regular heavy duty needles
- Moving Blanket - Leather needles are best for punching through the bulk of the moving blanket
Shopping list for above materials
(based on constructing a gambeson for your average SCA male heavy fighter 180 –200 lbs)
- 1 NEW moving blanket
OR 3 m Polyester or Cotton batting
- 3 m @ 60 inch width of each the exterior fabric and the lining
- 2 m @ 60 inch width for bias tape to seal all edges and seams for fitted style
OR 1 m @ 60 inch width for bias tape to seal all edges for looser tunic style (see section on design)
- 2 spools of thread in exterior color for quilting and top stitching
- 2 spools of thread in bias tape color
- 1 package of sewing machine needles (see above for type)
- 12 m of Stichwitchery @ 20 inch width
OR 4 m of discount fusing (it is generally in greater than 60 inch widths – adjust this amount based on what
widths you are able to purchase it in)
- Closures (this is all matter of choice)
- 2 inch width adhesive backed Velcro (1 m is usually enough)
- Fabric tie closures made of bias tape fabric
- Leather toggles or buckles
- Grommets & leather or synthetic lacing
Misc. Supplies:
- TONS of good pins – quilting pins work best
- Tailors chalk
- Measuring tape
- Yard stick
- Good scissors
- Marking pen – felt marker
- Paper for pattern – newsprint works well
- Iron
Places to Buy Materials in Veraquilon
Moving Blankets:
Harlou Moving Supplies
9408 – 62 Avenue
Batting and Fusing:
Marshall Discount Fabrics
10015 – 63 Avenue
All other materials:
Fanny’s Fabrics is my favorite
- excellent selection of suiting
- poly/cotton is regularly on sale
- great selection of clearance materials
Places to Buy Materials in Montengarde
Moving Blankets:
Shipper’s Supply Inc.
Bay #8, 3401 – 19 Street NE
4848 – 52 Street SE
All other materials:
as above, Fanny’s Fabrics is my favorite
- excellent selection of suiting
- poly/cotton is regularly on sale
- great selection of clearance materials
1. Neck
2. Neck to shoulder
3. Shoulder to sleeve end
4. Armpit to sleeve end
5. Bicep flexed
6. Elbow
7. Forearm flexed
8. Wrist
9. Chest expanded
10. Shoulder to shoulder across rounded back
11. Shoulder to shoulder across expanded chest
12. Base of back of neck to bottom edge
13. Base of throat to bottom edge
14. Waist
15. Hip
16. Desired overlap (approx. from center line to nipple)
17. Desired slit
18. Armpit to bottom edge
Drafting the Pattern
For fitted
Back Panel
Front panel – remember that this is an overlap
closure cut 2 pieces one facing left & one facing
right. Note centerline – the amount of overlap
can be modified to suit personal taste.
Short Sleeve
Long sleeve
For Loose/Tunic style
Use a tunic pattern as a guide for the fit – I use McCall 2665 Men’s tunic for the basic shape but taper the
sleeves from the pattern’s design and split the front on the center line adding enough for an overlap to the
resulting front half.
Construction Process
Wash all fabric including the moving blanket/batting in HOT water and dry thoroughly.
WASHING WARNINGS: Moving blankets are huge and heavy – don’t risk your washing machine – go
to a laundromat. Batting is hard to wash – I suggest soaking it in hot water in your tub, squeezing out the
excess, spin in the washer and lay out or tumble on gentle to dry.
Press all fabric and batting/moving blanket – this will make it easier to work with and to fuse together
Take all indicated measurements and draft a rough pattern (see Drafting the pattern)
Pin together and fit against wearer – do not fit too closely to the body at this point – it can always be
trimmed to fit. Leave space to accommodate armor and the broad arm movements that are necessary to
most styles of fighting. The garment should not restrict movement in any way.
Lay out pattern on batting or moving blanket – IMPORTANT! Quilting channels must run across the
piece – including on the sleeves if not, the loose cotton fill will shift down the garment
Mark out the pattern with marker and then cut out allowing a minimum of 1 inch all round
Gently pin together at shoulders and test the fit on the wearer – trim any obvious excess – always trim in
small increments – do not over trim or the garment will be too tight. Pin together sleeves and test width
keeping in mind armor and needed range of movement and as small measure of shrinkage due to quilting
Cut exterior and lining to the dimensions of the batting/moving blanket pieces
Pin exterior, batting/moving blanket, and lining together with right faces of fabric out. Make sure that the
right and left sides of the front of the garment and the left and right sleeve are assembled correctly – you
do not want to begin fusing till this is clear – you cannot easily pull the layers apart once fused
Cut fusing – Do not throw away any scraps! You can piece fusing. The overlap will not show.
Fuse the exterior and lining to the blatting/moving blanket. Set your iron just past perm-press and use full
steam. Start by fusing the lining to one side then the exterior. ALWAYS work from the center of the
piece out. Work slowly and methodically to be sure that the entire surface is bonding. Do not slide the
iron – this will cause wrinkles. Lift and reposition the iron as you work. Heat each spot for about 30
seconds and apply pressure – this helps full bond the materials. Allow the piece to cool before flipping it
over to bond other side. Once done each piece, allow it to cool FLAT.
Quilt pieces if desired. Quilting significantly increases the life of the gambeson as it contains the
batting/padding and limits it’s migration within the gambeson. Using tailors chalk, mark out the desired
pattern. Quilt ALL pieces before proceeding.
FIT TO WEARER – this will be much easier at this point – do not overtrim
Open edges of finished pieces and trim ¾ of an inch of batting/padding back from the edge. DO NOT
CUT THE EXTERIOR OR LINING MATERIAL. (see diagram below for applicable edges)
Prepare Bias tape. Find the bias on your material by pulling on the diagonal and it will give. Place the
yardstick on the bias and mark with tailor’s chalk. You will need 21/4 inch width strips for the bulk of the
gambeson. Mark out a large number of strips and cut. Do not mark entire fabric, instead cut more strips
later if needed. If you use the open armpit design, you will also need 4, 8 – 10 inch long, 3 inch wide
At this point you should have five fused and quilted gambeson pieces and a bunch of strips of home made
bias tape. Now assemble in the following order. See following pages for complete instructions on the sealing
and edging process.
- Stitch shoulder front (left and right) to shoulder back.
- Seal shoulder seam with bias tape if using fitted style
- Edge front overlap outside edge
- Edge entire neckline with on strip of bias tape
- Baste side seams
- FIT TO WEARER – at this point take a moment to make sure the armholes are comfortable and that the
side slits are deep enough (if applicable) have the wearer do a deep lunge. If the slit is high enough, the
gambeson will allow the full movement and hinge at about the hip bone.
- Stitch side seams
- Edge side slit if applicable
- Edge bottom edges of front and back
- Seal side seams if fitted style
- Edge armhole if fitted style
- Baste stitch sleeves together
- FIT TO WEARER – the sleeve should not be tight at any point – remember to keep armor and needed
range of movement in mind. At this point, if doing long sleeves, determine if you wish to cut out a circle
of fabric at the inside of the elbow. I have never found this necessary but many fighters do appear to use
this approach. If you choose this approach, I would recommend adding a gusset of the exterior material to
the outside of the garment to conceal the hole.
- Sew sleeves together
- Seal sleeve seam
- FIT TO WEARER – at this point take a moment to make sure the set of the sleeves is comfortable. Pin
sleeve to shoulder and have wearer run slowly through full range of movement. With the fitted style, this
part of the fitting process is crucial as you do not want to have any bunching or biting in the armpit area.
Work slowly and trim till fit is right.
- Edge shoulder edge if using fitted style
Join sleeve to body of gambeson. There are several different methods for attaching the sleeve
Stitched method leaving armpit open – for fitted style
- Line up sleeve seam and side seam of gambeson find point where sleeve and shoulder seam meet
- Pin in place up to four inches on either side shoulder seam
- Zigzag across join of sleeve and shoulder to tack in place
- Finish by sealing seam
- Start with inside
- Using 3inch width bias tape, prep tape by folding in edges approximately a ½ inch then
fold in ends to needed length – length of run of zigzag join
- Pin and stitch. Repeat with outside seam
Grommeting method – best with fitted style
- Line up sleeve seam and side seam of gambeson find point where sleeve and shoulder seam meet
- Pin in place up to four inches on either side shoulder seam
- Mark points for grommets on body and sleeve
- Unpin and set grommets
- I would recommend preparing a small flap to stitch in place beneath the grommets to protect the
wearer from bites from impact with gommets
- Lace in place with leather or synthetic lace
Stitched method with sealed armpit – best with loose style
- Sew into place as you would a tunic sleeve
- IMPORTANT: If the sealing techniques was not used, the edges at the shoulders, side seams and armholes
will need to be serged or sealed with store bought bias tape to minimize wear.
- Reinforce stress points
Done by stitching a box with crossing x at stress points (see diagram)
Stitch this pattern minimum 3 times. Insert reinforcing in the following places
- Top of slit
- Peak of shoulder/sleeve join
- Edge of armhole opening
Attach closures of choice
Wash at least once before wearing in war/tournament to break in gambeson Be sure to keep excess fabric.
Set it aside for future repairs, just on case.
Sealing Seams
This process entirely encases the seam so as to prevent tearing and to increase the lifespan of the seams. Prep
the seam once sewn by pressing the seam allowance away from the seam. Always begin sealing the seam
from the inside.
1. Take an appropriate length of 2 ¼ inch bias tape and lay it right side down against the gambeson with the
edge of the bias tape butted up against the seam. Stitch into place approximately 5/8 of an inch away
from seam.
2. Flip bias tape across seam exposing right side of fabric. Stitch along folded edge.
3. Turn under bias tape edge approximately 5/8 of an inch and pin. Stitch into place.
4. Repeat on outside edge of seam.
This process completely encases the edge of the batting or moving blanket to prevent leakage of padding and
to increase the lifespan of the exposed edges. This is particularly important on high wear edges such as the
neck and armhole. Prep edge by trimming away any loose threads or padding. Always begin sealing the seam
from the inside.
1. Take an appropriate length of 2 ¼ inch bias tape and lay it right side down against the gambeson with the
edge of the bias tape butted up against the edge. Stitch into place approximately 5/8 of an inch away from
2. Flip bias tape across edge exposing right side of fabric.
3. Flip over gambeson so you are now working from the outside of the gambeson.
4. Turn under bias tape edge approximately 5/8 of an inch and pin. Careful and frequent pinning is the key
to an attractively finished edge. You cannot over pin! This will be particularly tricky around the neckline –
work slowly. Use a measuring tape occasionally to ensure your edging will be even. Stitch into place.
Edging Corners
When coming to a corner (bottom of gambeson or at overlap edge on the front left and right piece) the
process is a bit more complex. The intention is to make sure that this high wear area is completely sealed
1. Complete step 1, 2 & 3 as above.
2. Take excess bias tape projecting past the edge of the gambeson and fold it in towards the corner.
3. Fold in edge of bias tape enough to allow a pleasing width of edging when turned up to body of
4. Turn up edge tight against raw edge of gambeson and pin into place. Be sure that the resulting corner has
no exposed raw fabric edges or padding. Use a measuring tape occasionally to ensure your edging will be
even. Stitch into place.
Stitch the corner into place and top stitch three times.
Sewing terms defined:
Baste - A method of temporarily joining fabric using large stitches. Used to hold a sewing project in place
and removed when the permanent sewing is done.
Batting - Fiberfill, cotton, wool, or other such padding material that is flattened into a dense layer. Can be
purchased in precut lengths or by the yard.
Bias - Runs diagonally to the straight grain of the fabric. This is the stretchiest part on the fabric.
Bias Tape - Strips of fabric which are cut from the bias of the fabric, often turned under and pressed. Used
for bindings, facings or edging. The bias cut allows the strip of fabric to smoothly follow curves.
Bonding Material – See Fusing.
Fusing (bonding material, webbing, popular brand name Stichwitchery) Has the characteristic of being able
to be ironed on, usually permanently, with or without reinforcement by stitching, due to a heat-activated
"glue" on one or both sides. Double-sided version used to “glue” two surfaces to each other.
Grommet - A small metal or plastic ring used to reinforce, strengthen or protect an opening.
Gusset - A piece of fabric inserted to strengthen and/or enlarge an area of garment.
Quilt - Two layers of fabric with a layer of batting, cotton, wool, feathers, or down in between, all stitched
firmly together, usually in a decorative crisscross design.
Serge - A stitch type generated by a serger that seals the seam.
Serger - A type of sewing machine that stitches the seam, encases the seam with thread, and cuts off excess
fabric at the same time. These are used for construction of garments with knit fabrics mostly, or to finish
seams of any fabric.
Stichwitchery - See Fusing.
Tack - A temporary stitch to hold pieces together, usually removed after final stitching. Tacking is also
known as a term for starting off a seam with a few stitches back and forth for stabilizing.